Supreme Court rejects Arizona challenge against Sackler family

The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would not hear an unusual case brought by the state of Arizona that seeks to stop the Sackler family, which owns and controls Purdue Pharma, from transferring billions of dollars from the company in an effort to deplete it and avoid paying claims concerning the prescription opioid painkiller Oxycontin.

The case did not concern Purdue’s guilt related to the opioid epidemic, but simply Arizona’s allegation that the family is trying to siphon money out of the company in an effort to stymie the company from satisfying claims made against it.

But it’s another in a series of legal efforts to hold Purdue and the Sacklers responsible for the opioid crisis.

The justices issued the order without comment or noted dissent.

Arizona wanted the court to step in and order that the transfers are void and block any further transfers.

“The state brings this action because it has evidence that the Sacklers, Purdue, and other Defendants were parties in recent years to massive cash transfers — totaling billions of dollars — at a time when Purdue faced enormous exposure for its role in fueling the opioids crisis,” lawyers for the state argued in court papers.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said at the time the case was filed: “The Unites States Supreme Court is an improper forum to conduct a trial of the claims being made by Arizona. This petition was filed solely for the purpose of leapfrogging other similar lawsuits, and we expect the Court will see it as such.”

A Sackler family attorney declined to comment.

Legal experts said such a filing made directly with the Supreme Court was unusual.

“Although the Supreme Court can initially hear lawsuits in which a state is a party, it almost never does so when the lawsuit is between a state and private parties, in contrast to a dispute between two or more states,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

Vladeck said that justices generally don’t like to be deprived of a lower court’s consideration of the issue.

William Consovoy, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, who is also representing President Donald Trump in cases related to requests for his tax returns, represented Arizona in the dispute.

In court papers, Consovoy charged that Purdue Pharma “over the last two decades” had embarked on an “aggressive marketing campaign to disrupt prevailing medical norms in order to pump up sales of its opioid painkillers, including OxyContin.”

Purdue has paid more than $600 million in fines and also entered into a consent judgment with Arizona to resolve the state’s investigation into the company’s marketing of OxyContin. That agreement, according to Consovoy, required the company to pay a $19.5 million fine to Arizona and other states.

Since the judgment, however, Arizona claims that the company continued a deceptive marketing campaign and is seeking civil penalties for up to $25,000 per violation. The case is set for trial in 2021.